Study Abroad in the United States: 14 Things to Know Before You Go
If you’ve ever considered studying abroad in the United States, you’ve probably wondered what the do’s and don’ts are.
Visiting a new country is both exciting and intimidating, even if it is only a brief vacation. So when it comes to longer periods of time to study or take college courses, a lot of planning is required.
The best tips for successful study abroad in the United States can vary depending on several factors. For example, the conditions for obtaining a US visa depend on the length of your stay or your country of origin. Fortunately, your university will help you with most of these issues, once you apply and have been accepted into your chosen study program.
Of course, there is a lot to prepare beyond the initial visa requirements. This guide will help you plan your study program in the United States, regardless of its length and type.
- Improve your language skills
Even though most international students have already learned English in their home country, you are likely to encounter conversational differences in the United States.
To improve your language skills and immerse yourself in learning American English, consider taking an English as a Second Language course – an essential preparation for participating in class discussions.
In addition to lessons, one of the following smartphone apps can help you refresh and maintain your English skills:
- Find out about exchange programs
If you are looking for short-term study opportunities in the United States, check to see if your university offers exchange programs. If you are accepted, you can travel to the United States and live with a host family to fully immerse yourself in all aspects of the culture. These programs are different from degree programs at American universities and can be an important step towards future study in the United States, if that is your goal.
If your university does not offer such a program, check the US Department of State website for other exchange opportunities .
- Look for financial help
When foreign students come to the United States for graduate studies (bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate), they realize that tuition fees are high. American universities often charge international students more than American students, whether you are in a community college , university, or other educational institution.
The majority of students who study abroad in the United States pay for their education with family or personal funds . About 20% get funding from the institution they attend, and a small percentage even receive money from governments and higher education institutions in their countries.
If personal or family funds are not enough to cover the bill, consider the following sources of funding:
- Student loans provided by your institution
- Federal government programs
- International scholarships
- Scholarships for specific universities
- Local organizations in your community
- Take into account visa and tax requirements
The process of obtaining a visa from the United States Department of State can be complex. So you need to do extensive research to understand the requirements you will be faced with . For example, Taiwanese students must pass an interview before obtaining a visa. Take a look at the US Student Visas page to understand the rules and requirements specific to people from different countries.
Not all opportunities to study abroad in the United States come from universities. You may wish to study in America as part of a high school program, seminary, conservatory, or even a foreign language training program. In these situations, you may need a different type of visa.
Most students will need a J visa – which is for visitors on an exchange – but a Category F, M, or B visa may also be required. Make sure you find the one that meets your specific needs.
In some cases, you will also need to apply for an ITIN or Social Security number . This number is often needed to pay taxes on scholarships and other similar financial assets . You can find great resources on the application process on most university websites.
- Research American cities and universities.
You’ve probably done a lot of research before choosing a school in your country. This is something you should also do when choosing an American university. Take into account the education system, cost of living, campus living, location, available programs, and tuition fees. If funding your studies is a major concern, look for universities that offer scholarships to international students.
When doing your research, be sure to check out institutional rankings on websites like QS Top Universities , US News Best US Universities , Niche , and more. At the same time, think about what kind of school you want to attend. For example, some people prefer research-oriented schools, while others prefer to have more concrete and practical experiences.
Your decision should also take into account American cities. Some people prefer big cities while others feel better in smaller ones. Each place has its own vibe, and you will have very different experiences depending on where you go. Make your final decision based on your personal preferences.
- Prepare your finances
Look for money exchange options before you go. It is good to bring some cash with you before you leave your home country. You can also change your national currencies to US dollars at the airport. However, services offered at airports often charge significant fees. ATMs are cheaper and just as convenient.
You should also call your bank to let them know that you will be using your card abroad.
If you are studying in the United States for at least a semester, consider opening a United States bank account . This will simplify your financial life and save you the costs associated with international transfers, ATM fees, exchange rates, etc.
If you are planning to transfer money to your friends or family in your country, a money transfer app like Remitly will make it easier for you.
- Plan your food needs
Most American universities offer on-campus dining options. Spend some time researching what’s available at your university before you go. This will allow you to plan how much time you need between classes for a quick bite to eat.
If you have specific dietary needs, this research is essential. Universities’ webpages devoted to dining options are rarely in-depth, so feel free to contact your institution directly to find out if there are any gluten-free, vegetarian, halal, and other offerings to meet your needs.
- Prepare for the culture of tipping
Many American workers depend on tips for their income. Americans leave a tip when they eat in certain restaurants, take a taxi, get a massage, go to the bar, or have their luggage brought to their room.
A 15-20% tip is usual in many situations, but check the internet for specific amounts for each task.
- Purchase health insurance
It is important to purchase travel health insurance before visiting a country. In the case of study abroad in the United States, it is even essential. Health care in America is very expensive, and if you do n’t buy insurance before you travel to the country, you could owe thousands of dollars in an emergency.
Fortunately, many universities offer their own discounted health plans for students. In fact, some require students to sign up for their plans if they don’t have comparable coverage .
For example, the University of Washington requires international students to have insurance.
If you are able to purchase insurance that meets the institution’s requirements at a more affordable cost, contact the university and request a waiver. It is true that you absolutely need health insurance to avoid getting into heavy debt in the United States, but you do not have to break the bank to acquire it.
As a regular immigrant, you may also find options under the Affordable Care Act . For more information, visit the National Immigration Law Center website .
- Get to know the common holidays
Each country has its own public holidays, and in America there are days of celebration that do not really meet the traditional definition of a ” public holiday “. There is no harm in checking out a comprehensive guide to public holidays in America to soak up more of the culture.
Take a look at the statutory holidays when most campuses are closed. These days are great opportunities to get out and enjoy all the country has to offer while studying abroad in America:
- New Year’s Day ( January 1 )
- Memorial Day (last Monday in May)
- Independence Day (July 4)
- Labor Day (first Monday in September)
- Thanksgiving (fourth Thursday in November)
- Christmas (December 25)
There are also statutory holidays which are widely, but not universally, observed in the United States. Check your school’s specific policies regarding public holidays during the school year, such as :
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day
- Presidents day
- Juneteenth or Freedom Day, June 19
- Columbus ( Indigenous Peoples) Day
- Veterans Day
- Explore your region
There are a lot of amazing places to visit in America, but don’t just focus on popular destinations like Los Angeles or New York. Take the time to research the region in which you live. You can find amazing things.
If you are attending Augusta University in Georgia, for example, nothing special will immediately come to mind. Still, with a little research, you’ll find everything from nearby lakes and presidential homes to historic museums and international golf events.
If you can’t find anything you like, remember that most cities have farmers’ markets, antique stores, parks, and historic sites.
- Prepare for the realities of transportation
If you’re planning on doing anything in America – or even going to school – you need to be prepared for the realities of transportation. While many large cities offer public transportation – ranging from rail systems to bus lines – smaller areas may not have these options. You will need to do some research on the area you will be living in before you go.
A good way to avoid problems is to get your driver’s license. See the Department of Homeland Security’s guide on obtaining a driver’s license as an international student for more information. Requirements may vary depending on where you are staying in America.
Fortunately for some students – like those from Taiwan and Japan – America accepts valid driver’s licenses from their home country and some can even be transferred to US driver’s licenses. If you don’t feel like driving, try services like Uber or Lyft.
- Invest in finding accommodation
Anyone traveling to study abroad in the United States needs a place to stay. And even if you only plan to sleep there, it’s important to invest a lot of time in research. It might be your home for the duration of your stay in the United States, so it deserves more than just a glance.
Foreign students have the choice between several accommodation options. Here are some of the most common:
- Rent their own apartment
- Rent a room at someone’s house
- Rent with roommates
- Living on campus
Many higher education institutions, such as the University of South Carolina and the University of Maryland, also offer resources for off-campus living. Contact your institution to find out if they offer these services.
- Prepare for reverse culture shock
Studying abroad can cause some culture shock. However, if you stay in the country for a month or more, you can expect reverse culture shock when you return home. Much like the changes you have experienced in America, adjusting to life in your home country can take some time.
If you need to, take it easy before you fully immerse yourself in your own country. Adjusting to life in your country can be quite a process.
Take advantage of studying in the United States!
There are countless things to enjoy while studying abroad, and in the United States, you will find an abundance of cultural experiences that can change your life. By preparing before your departure, you will reduce the risk of unexpected problems during your stay.